Symondshyde campaign gathers momentum

Campaigners Chris Oxley and John Gardner

Campaigners Chris Oxley and John Gardner - Credit: Archant

Campaigners are fighting hard to save attractive countryside between Hatfield and Welwyn Garden City from major development.

The Save Symondshyde group demonstrated in force outside a recent Welwyn Hatfield Council panel meeting against the inclusion of a 1,130-home development in the draft Local Plan.

It has enlisted the support of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, and Wheathampstead and Sandridge parish councils.

Chairman John Gardner, 61, who lives in Cromer Hyde, told the Welwyn Hatfield Times: “When I was speaking to people in Wheathampstead, they said they did not know it was happening. They are getting shocked and concerned.”

Although the draft plan proposes major building in several other parts of Welwyn Hatfield, Symondshyde is the only “stand-alone” development, not extending an existing community.

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Paths across the farmland, which is next to Symondshyde Great Wood, are well used by walkers and horse-riders, and the lane is popular with cyclists.

Mr Gardner said: “At weekends, a group of cyclists comes past every few minutes. I know somebody who comes all the way from Luton to walk his dog there.”

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He claimed the council has included the area with insufficient consultation, in contravention of recent government advice on Green Belt protection.

Borough councillor Glyn Hayes said: “Cabinet members and council officers have continually stated that they have no choice in the number of houses built.

“This is simply not true. A small cohort of councillors are forcing through their views, picking out pieces of Green Belt land and ignoring the public.”

Janet Lewis of Lemsford said: “The council is constantly encouraging us to improve our health by walking in the countryside. Why is it planning to destroy the beautiful and accessible Symondshyde area, used and loved by countless walkers and riders, and a haven for wildlife?”

Symondshyde Great Wood supports swildlife such as scarce butterflies, but the council says it will be seperated from the proposed houses by a ”green buffer”.

Wheathampstead parish councillor Judy Shardlow said: “The land has been dropped into the process at far too late a stage. The council has decided to hold a short and final consultation, when the Symondshyde proposal will appear for the first time.”

A council spokeswoman responded: “This site could provide much needed housing, as well as new community facilities and infrastructure, including a primary school. We must plan positively for growth so the next generation will be able to afford their own homes, have varied job opportunities and enjoy healthy, vibrant communities.

“It is important we balance the demand for growth with the need to protect the environment, and we’ve included a requirement for a green buffer between development and the woodland, reducing the number of homes from 1,400 to 1,130.

“This site did come forward later in the process and we hosted two drop-in events in October 2015 to update everyone on the new sites, including Symondshyde.

“Gascoyne Cecil, the landowners, also held a 10-day charrette and everyone will get the opportunity to have their say during an eight week consultation, beginning in August.”

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